Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Girls' Day Out

One of my favorite activities is lunch out with friends. Occasionally, we head to a local casino near the Philly airport. They have a neat bar/restaurant with a wall of windows overlooking the horse racing track and the Delaware River. We play the slots for a while and have lunch with a great view. We don't do professional sports events, and we consider it costs about the same as a sports event--it's entertainment. The parking is free and the cost of food is more reasonable than in a sports stadium. 

Occasionally, we win and a friend had a big win on the last visit which was fun for everyone. I think I'm ahead as long as I play the slots on the casino's nickel. We get Total Rewards player's cards and build comps which are valid in other casinos around the U.S. We played for several hours and talked about the kids, grandchildren, or whatever. Longtime friends can find a lot to talk about.

Last fall, we were gambling at the slots when the earthquake hit the east coast. It was a puzzling event to experience in a huge building. I could feel the floor vibrating under my feet and there was a lot of noise not exclusively coming from the casino. Everyone knew something unusual was happening but I don't know if anyone ran for the exit. Later we heard that it was an earthquake which didn't disturb us much at the time because this region isn't known for earthquakes. It was interesting that we were in a casino when such an event occurred; unfortunately, it didn't shake loose any slots. Maybe we were just lucky the building didn't fall on us. 

Gambling is just another social event we can enjoy as a group. I enjoy gambling and I try to experience the casinos around the world whenever I happen to see one. I've gambled in Vegas, Reno, Atlantic City, Cripple Creek, Colorado, Delaware, Pennsylvania, islands in the Caribbean, cruise ships, and the casino in Monte Carlo. It has changed a lot since James Bond's days. I haven't seen the casinos in Macau but I could put that on my bucket list. Anything in the Far East sounds so exotic. It loses a lot when there isn't a group to giggle and cheer when someone hits a bonus round on a penny slot machine. It is an occasion to get together and enjoy socializing.  As I looked around the casino and the buffet on one trip, it was obviously a group experience for other ladies too. For those of us who don't play cards, Bunco, bridge, golf, or tennis, a casino is a good alternative to shopping trips or lectures. We like museums, but casinos are more fun.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Kill Shot

In the fictional war on terror, some protagonists stand out like superheroes. At the top of the list is CIA agent Mitch Rapp, created by novelist Vince Flynn. In his latest "American Assassin Thriller",  character Mitch Rapp again takes on the terrorists, traitors, double agents and selfish, shortsighted bureaucrats.

Continuing the story of the early life and beginnings of a newbie CIA agent first covered in American Assassin, Kill Shot finds Mitch Rapp proceeding to work his way down a list of terrorists, or sponsors of terrorists that the CIA has identified for assassination. Only four people knew the names of the people on the list and three had photographic memories, so a paper list was unnecessary.

When one of the targets on the list is taken out, and Rapp is attacked, he realizes he has been compromised in his mission. He barely escapes with his life and is wounded. It becomes obvious that the names on the list have been leaked to their enemies by an informant within their own ranks.Surviving and identifying who can and who cannot be trusted takes over as Rapp's primary objective. 

Vince Flynn has done an admirable job in creating a character that can qualify as a hero because he is very skilled in all the qualities required of a spy, and he has the appropriate rage of injustice to fuel his motivation to do a very dirty job. "Boots on the ground" takes on a whole new meaning and gives the reader an insight into the dangerous, gritty assignments that are taken on by the groups like the Seal Team Six in an effort to protect citizens from aggressors that would like nothing better than to destroy the quality of life that civilized societies aspire to achieve.

Flynn has shown in his character, Mitch Rapp, a respect for the lives of innocents and his values in requiring surgical strikes in his assignments to avoid killing innocent bystanders. Mitch Rapp is a character with courage and resolve in removing the despots of the world with great skill and finesse. When the reader finds that Mitch Rapp has successfully removed the terrorists and traitors with no redeeming qualities and those who have no conscience in creating misery for other people, it is a particularly satisfying read.

As I read some of the reviews found online, many were very critical of the book and I couldn't disagree more. I have read every book written by Vince Flynn and he remains true to the character he has created and especially to the theme that there are evil forces walking the earth. The twelve Mitch Rapp books point out that we need people who are capable and willing to confront and eliminate those evil forces. Those of us who sleep in clean, soft beds and sleep an untroubled night with no bombs interrupting our sleep, owe those courageous agents a great debt and should honor their work. Yes, it is fiction, but this series began before 9/11 and when it happened, I wondered if Vince Flynn was psychic. It serves as a necessary reminder that Joe/Sally Citizen can go about their daily lives because many other citizens have sacrificed with untold efforts which made that peaceful existence possible. Peace is not free.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Take Your Best Shot

I love looking at beautiful blogs where expert photographers display their photos of pets, children, sports events, fireworks and all those challenging photographic "Kodak moments". I've upgraded to a better camera several times, but I know I need a more sophisticated camera to produce results like the ones I envy online. I am learning to play with light settings, ISO, shutter speed, focal distance, and all those other little settings on my camera. Sometimes I even RTFM.

My great frustration is in finding a great opportunity to photograph, but my light setting might be wrong, or my shutter speed is wrong. Maybe I needed to do a macro of a flower. Other frustrations are in trying to take pictures of my grandchildren who constantly move about and don't like to pose for cameras. Sometimes I turn on the video and just take movies of them. I have played with the movie making software and pulled out a freeze frame still shot, but the quality isn't what I would want for a photo album or to put in a frame. I have played with Photoshop and a half dozen editing programs to try to improve focus, color, or lighting.

I once took a mini course on digital photography and came away with a few guiding principles that were helpful. The instructor said, "Take a deep breath, depress the shutter button halfway to allow it to auto-focus and squeeze it to take the picture to avoid camera shake." Standing still is very difficult so I often lean on a column or whatever is handy. Consequently, my photos often are out of focus and thank goodness it is digital rather than film, because I delete more than I use. Sometimes I take a dozen pictures or more to find one I can accept. The ones that are out of focus frustrate me when I expect a photo that looks as my eye sees something. I like a small camera and I don't like to drag around a tripod.

For those of us who love photography but struggle with our amateur status, help is on the way. In Science News, January 28, 2012, an article called "The Digital Camera Revolution" details a jaw-dropping list of innovations. Even though there are now cameras that take pictures around corners, or others that can make an image look like a 3-D image, the one that appeals to me is the new Lytro. You can focus the photo after you take it. How did they know I needed that? Cameras for Dummies.

I know where there are innovations, there are ways to manipulate great technology for nefarious motives. I already look at photos with skeptical eyes and fancy I can tell which have double images or have been Photoshopped into something that doesn't exist. Seeing is not always believing. Nevertheless, I look forward to the camera that will make my photos look as great as I want. I want to freeze that moment when my grandson pops a bubble with his nose and I want it focused.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Party of Orchids

 In the midst of a dark, cloudy day, brightness and a burst of color is only ten minutes from my house. Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania is hosting their annual orchid extravaganza which is truly spectacular. On the first step into the conservatory from temperatures in the middle forties outdoors, the warm, humid breeze brings a perfume of promises. 

The variety of colors is always a feast for the eyes in the middle of winter.  There aren't enough adjectives to describe the fabulous displays this horticultural wonder produces. 

The orchids are featured, but many other flowers are also abundant and lilies are a nice combination with the orchids.